#TBT High School Hopscotch

On the back of today’s Throwback Thursday photograph is written “High School. Hop-scotch- a popular challenge [indecipherable word].”

Young women playinig hopscotch in school uniforms on sidewalk in what looks like a neighborhood. Some students in distance are sitting down and cars are parked on the curb. Black-and-white photo. No date.

University Photographs, box 793.

No date for this photograph. When do you think it was taken?

Have a hankering for air-conditioning and old photographs? Drop by our reading room and dive into our University Photographs! We’re open Monday-Friday from 9 to 5.


#TBT Iowa State’s 1872 Commencement

An estimated 5,047 students are graduating from Iowa State this semester, and many of them will participate in Commencement this weekend. So, in honor of this year’s ceremonies, this #TBT post will be about Iowa State University’s first Commencement in 1872.

Below is the 1872 Commencement program (RS 7/9/4/1).

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Fun Facts

  • The first Commencement took place in November!
  • 26 students graduated in the first class.
  • 2 of the graduates were women.
  • Commencement took place at West House in Ames, which was Ames’ first hotel.
  • President Welch’s first commencement address is available online thanks to the University Library Digital Initiatives.

Below are some proofs from our University Photographs (box 1547). I believe the final product is the image included at the end of this post. It may seem weird that I’m including proofs. But I’m an archivist and, to me, the unpublished stuff is the good stuff.

This collection of photographs (below) of 1872 Iowa State Graduates was given to the Alumni Association in June 1957 by the only living 1872 alumni, J.C. Arthur and Henry L. Page, when they returned to campus for the 65th anniversary of their graduation.

Individual portraits of 26 members of Iowa State Class of 1872, 24 men and 2 women.

Bottom right: “This collection of photographs of all members of the class of Eighteen Seventy-Two was presented to the Alumni Association June 1957 by J.C. Arthur and Henry L. Page on the occasion of the sixty-fifth anniversary of their graduation. The only two living members of the class, Doctor Arthur and Mr. Page returned to the College for the celebration of the sixty-fifth anniversary of their graduation.” (University Photographs box 1547).


Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Pilar Garcia’s Chicken-Pork Adobo

This month Iowa State University celebrated Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) National Heritage Month, though nationally AAPI Heritage Month is celebrated in May. ISU celebrates AAPI month in April because school is pretty much over this week. I decided to compromise by posting the first week of May and the last day of April.

For Women’s History Month, I wrote about ISU Professor Emeritus Pilar Angeles Garcia.

Shortly after this post, a colleague pointed out that Professor Garcia’s adobo recipe was located in Iowa State University Digital Repository in a 1955 article on Garcia in the Iowa Homemaker. The chicken-pork adobo recipe is pictured below. Rather than just add it to the comments of the original post, I thought the recipe deserved its own post.

Chicken-Pork Adobo. 1 1/2-2 lbs. broiler chicken (cut into 8 pieces); 2 lbs. pork (cut into 2 cubes). 1/2 c. vinegar. 3 cloves garlic (crushed). 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika. 2 Tablespoons lard. Salt and pepper. Combine all ingredients and let stand for two hours. Brown the meat in the lard, add the liquid mixture and cook slowly until tender. Serve over hot rice.

Chicken-Pork Adobo recipe cropped from the The Iowa Homemaker: Vol. 35 : No. 11.

This version of chicken-pork adobo is different than what I’m used to as there is no soy sauce and my mother doesn’t use lard or paprika, but I bet it’s still delicious. The thing about Filipino cooking is there is a lot of variety in the recipes.

You can find the article online or drop by the reading room. We’re open Monday – Friday, 9-5.


#TBT Studying in the Library

RS-4-8-O_Library_389-11-03

University Photos, box 389

The photo wasn’t dated, but I would guess this was taken in the 1950s.  Dead Week is the perfect time to share a photo of students studying in the Library Rotunda in front of our Grant Wood murals.

During Dead Week in 2018, the Rotunda is more suited for a relaxing break than studying since we will have some four-legged friends visiting for Barks @ Parks.

Study hard and good luck with finals next week!


Collecting Student Life Amongst Diverse Communities

Because Special Collections is the home of the University Archives (UA), documenting the University’s history is central to what we do.  The University Archives is filled with official records from the institution itself, but the student experience is under-documented.  This is woefully true in the case of black students.  One of the goals of the Library is to change that, but that can’t happen without alumni themselves.

One such student organization is the Eta Tau Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is the first African American intercollegiate sorority, and it was founded at Howard University in Washington DC 110 years ago. The Eta Tau Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. was chartered at Iowa State University/Drake University June 14, 1973. Anniversaries are reminders of how important it is to reflect upon one’s history and place at the university and the greater community. It is also an opportunity to solidify ones place in the official historical records, making it known and available for generations of students and researchers.

 

Help us document the Black student experience at Iowa State University. If you have letters, photographs, diaries, scrapbooks, research papers, meeting minutes, clippings, flyers, audio, film, or video recordings from your time at ISU, please consider donating them to the University Archives.

Eta Tau Chapter members at ISU game, ca. 1995. Courtesy of Keena Thicklin, AKA Inititate and ISU Class of


Visiting SCUA 103

Hello again! This is the third entry in the blog series about visiting special collections and archives from the perspective of someone who is pretty new.

Today I will be talking about how to find student records at the archives. Often we have visitors who are interested in finding out information about their relatives who went to school at Iowa State sometime in the past. Or, perhaps you’re interested in information about one of Iowa State’s more famous alumni. We have quite a few resources with information about students (naturally). I will highlight just a few of the most fruitful areas of information.

A great source of information on students is the yearbook, The Bomb. All of the yearbooks have been digitized, and they are also available in the reading room. The Bomb covers every year from 1894-1994. Often, in the back of the yearbook every senior will be listed along with the activities they participated in while at Iowa State. Looking up information on the clubs a particular person participated in may also offer some clues and interesting information.

1957BombStudentActivities

Page 451, 1957 Bomb

A second helpful resource is the school directories. In the reading room, we have directories from 1901 to 2010. The directories list the majors, year in school, on campus address, and hometown. If you know the general time period that someone may have gone to school here, you can use the directories to pin down more exact dates.

A third resource are our alumni files. The alumni files can be rich sources of information, depending on the graduate. It’s also important to note that not every graduate will have an alumni file and there are some student files for individuals who attended but never graduated. The only way to find out if a student has a file is to have a member of SCUA staff take a look at the boxes in the closed stacks and check, which we are more than happy to do for you. If you want to know in advance whether you might find information on someone, you can always send us an email to archives@iastate.edu. Some of the alumni files have just an article or two while others are much larger.

Classof1895

Members of the class of 1895, University photo box

There are a few alumni who have collections of their own. For example, we have collections for George Washington Carver and Carrie Chapman Catt. However, there are also collections for some lesser known graduates. You can browse the alumni and former student finding aids to see if we have a collection for the person you are interested in learning about.

These are all places to start your research on former students. You can always stop by the reading room or email us to see if we have any more suggestions for you!


#TBT Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ames

Image of Martin Luther King, Jr. with the following text as introduction: Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. The Internationally recognized humanist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., first gained world-wide acclaim through his leadership of the Negro citizens' boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957. In the same year the Gallup Poll revealed that he was one of the most admired religious leaders of the world, and Time Magazine selected him one of the ten outstanding personalities of the year. At the present time Dr. King is pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, and president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Inc. Dr. King has chosen as his Friday night topic, "The Moral Challenges of a New Age", and will include in his presentation views concerning the racial problem in the United States and the colonial struggle in Asia and Africa, looking at both from a theological standpoint. Dr. King, although only 30 years of age, holds the Ph.D. degree in Systematic Theology from Boston University. He has been the recipient of three earned degrees plus five honorary degrees. Within the period of three years, 1956-1958, Dr. King has been granted 37 major awards and citations, including among these being the Windy City Press Club's, "Man of the Year", "The Citation for Distinguished Christian Service", from the National Fraternal Council of Churches, U.S.A., and the "Social Justice Award", from the Religion and Labor Foundation, New York.

Pages from the 1960 Religion-in-Life Week program introducing Martin Luther King Jr. as the speaker for the evening of Friday, January 22, 1960. (Iowa State University, Religion in Life Week records, RS 22/8/0/1, Box 2, Folder 8)

In January 1960, as part of Iowa State’s annual Religion in Life Week convocations, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited the Iowa State campus to deliver a speech on “The Moral Challenges of a New Age.” Sadly, we have no photographs or recordings of the speech, but a typescript of the speech exists in the archives, as does the program for the 1960 Religion-in-Life Week. The image above was taken from the program. If only it were possible to travel back in time, I would love to find myself sitting in the audience in the Great Hall the evening Dr. King came to ISU.


Women’s History Month: Civil Engineers Alda and Elmina Wilson

Alda and Elmina Wilson were sisters and Iowa natives who held the distinction of being the first female graduates from Iowa State‘s Civil Engineering program. Neither was the first woman in the United States to formally study Civil Engineering – that honor belongs to Elizabeth Bragg of California. Nevertheless, Elmina was the first woman in the country to earn a master’s degree in Civil Engineering, and she and her sister were also the first women to earn their living as successful full-time professionals in the field.

Elmina Wilson was born on September 29th, 1870 and Alda Wilson on September 20th, 1873. They lived in Harper, Keokuk County Iowa with their parents, John Chesney and Olive Eaton Wilson and six older siblings. Both their parents and grandparents were apparently very progressive and encouraged pursuit of higher education. It is unclear whether all of the older children did so (though one sister named Olive studied Agriculture at Iowa State before marrying). But Elmina, at least, seems to have settled on her career choice early in life. In a 1905 interview with the New York Sun, she mentions her love of mathematics and surveying as motivational factors, as well as of the necessity of having a degree to teach. She also speaks about having spent time doing railway field work as a teen, “walking the ties for miles, carrying transit and chain, whenever a fence crossed the path of the surveying party of which I was a member, the men went over it, but, of course, I went under.”

Elmina earned her B.S. in Civil Engineering from Iowa State in 1892.

Elmina Wilson at her 1892 graduation from ISU with a B.S. in Civil Engineering (University Photographs, RS# 21/07)

Elmina Wilson at her 1892 graduation from ISU with a B.S. in Civil Engineering (University Photographs, RS 21/07)

Alda soon followed in her footsteps, earning her B.S. in 1894, the same year Elmina made history by graduating with an M.S. and becoming the first female instructor in the department. During their time in school, both sisters were members of Pi Beta Phi, and both supplemented their ISU coursework with practical summer internships for various architectural and engineering firms in Chicago. Elmina also took advanced courses at Cornell, and Alma completed a masters at MIT, after which she took a job in Chicago, where she worked until 1904.

Elmina’s time as an instructor at ISU spanned over a decade post-graduation. She worked as an Assistant of Civil Engineering from 1892-1897, as an Instructor of Civil Engineering from 1898-1902, and an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering from 1902-1904. 

1894 Bomb yearbook, page 54. Elmina is listed as a department instructor even before she had officially graduated with her masters', as she taught while pursuing her graduate degree.

1894 Bomb yearbook, page 54. Elmina is listed as a department instructor even before she had officially graduated with her M.S., as she taught while pursuing her graduate degree.

While an instructor at ISU, Elmina also periodically collaborated on design projects with her supervisor and mentor, Anson Marston, the head of the Civil Engineering department. Most notably, she contributed to designs of the Marston Water Tower, now on the National Register of Historical Places.

1899 Bomb yearbook, page 23. Faculty. Civil Engineering. "By hammer and hand, all arts do sand. Yet too low they build who build beneath the stars." When this department was first established in the early years of the College history, there being no adequate place in which to conduct such a course, the students were taught simply land surveying and leveling. To-day the whole upper story of Engineering Hall is devoted to the work of this department. This includes a large class room, drafting room, office and instrument room, and is supplied with instruments for ordinary field work, including transits, levels, compasses, plane tables and the like, besides a cement testing outfit and testing machines. The students test in the laboratory, building stones, paving brick and other materials used in the construction of buildings. There is also a hydraulic laboratory connected with the new water works which furnishes facilities for many kinds of experiments in the mechanics of the flow of water. The best preparation, to our mind, that an engineer can have is a thorough knowledge of the underlying principles of his profession, without attempting an application of these principles by the use of formulas or rules, unless the laws and theory on which these formulas are based and the means by which they are deduced are thoroughly understood. Prof. A. Marston has had charge of this department since the Spring of '92, and Miss Elmina Wilson is the assistant professor.

1899 Bomb yearbook, page 23. She has no portrait in the faculty section, but Elmina is listed as assistant professor directly under the department chair Anston Marston.

From 1903 to 1904, Elmina took a sabbatical from teaching to reunite with her sister Alda (who had been working for some time in Chicago) for a trip to Europe. The sisters took the opportunity to study and draw, as well as marvel at, great European architecture. Happily, the ISU University Archives collection of Alda and Elmina’s papers contains all of their sketchbooks and journals from this period.

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, pencil illustration of architecture from an aerial view, entitled "Vaulting of San. Francisco - Lower Church Assisi 3-8-1904" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, entitled “Vaulting of San. Francisco – Lower Church Assisi 3-8-1904” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, pencil illustration of architecture dissected with numerical dimensions of components, entitled "Gothi Stone Staircase Pecci Palace Siena. Mch.16 1904" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook page, entitled “Gothi Stone Staircase Pecci Palace Siena. Mch.16 1904” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook, 2 page spread, pencil illustration of architecture from an exterior view, entitled "Pompeii Dec. 5 1903" and Cave Dec 6th 1903" (RS#21/7/24, folder 5)

Alda Wilson European Sketchbook, 2 page spread, entitled “Pompeii Dec. 5 1903″ and Cave Dec 6th 1903” (RS 21/7/24, folder 5)

Following their trip, the Wilson sisters decided to move to New York City together to pursue more hands-on work experience, as well as to become active in the movement for Women’s Suffrage. While there, Alda designed architecture, and Elmina first took a job with the James E. Brooks Company and then, several years later, with Purdy and Henderson. The latter company was associated with the era’s foremost innovators in engineering design and headed by a man nicknamed the “father of skyscrapers.” Among other projects she completed at P&H, Elmina is reported to have collaborated with another newly-minted female engineer, Marian Sarah Parker, on designs for the Flatiron Building.

Elmina’s life was cut tragically short in 1918 due to illness. She was 48 years old, childless, unmarried, and at the height of her career when she died. A 2010 article in the journal Leadership and Management in Engineering points out that she also just missed the passing of the 19th Amendment, for which she fought actively, by a mere two years.

Alda, however, lived a long and varied life. Despite having spent much of her career in her sister’s shadow, and despite having been deprived, by an accident of birth-order, the historical notoriety of being “first,” she continued to prove herself resourceful and innovative, even in the wake of her grief. She moved back to Iowa after Elmina’s death, only to find that the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) was suffering from a shortage of competent drafters, as most of the men who had previously been employed in the office had shipped overseas to fight World War I. So Alda became the superintendent of the first ever Department of Women Drafters in Ames.

1918 Report of the State Highway Commission, page 15, listing Alda Wilson as Superintendent of the Women's Drafting Department (RS# 21/7/24, folder 1)

1918 Report of the State Highway Commission, page 15 (RS 21/7/24, folder 1)

Shortly thereafter, having strengthened a friendship with fellow ISU graduate and women’s rights leader Carrie Chapman Catt, Alda became Catt’s personal secretary in addition to her other professional responsibilities. By the time her own death arrived in 1960, Alda, aged 87, had advanced to the powerful position of executive secretary and executor of Catt’s estate. It is thanks to her that many important documents related to the women’s rights movement from the early 20th century now reside at the Library of Congress.


Women’s History Month: Pilar Angeles Garcia

On March 2, 2018, a group of Iowa State University students presented at the 2018 Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity (ISCORE). In their presentation, “Lost Stories: Women of Color at Iowa State University,”the students listed accomplishments of women of color at ISU and encouraged the university to recognize the achievements of women of color who have contributed to the success and innovation of the university. Their session included the story of Pilar Garcia, who had worked at Iowa State in the Department of Food and Nutrition from 1950-1991. I had come across this collection by accident in my first year here as outreach archivist and noted it because Garcia was born in the Philippines, like my mother. In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to put a spotlight on Pilar Garcia and her papers.

Pilar Angeles Garcia was born on November 4, 1926, in Manila, the Philippines. Her father, Gaudencio Garcia, served as a professor of international and political law, and her mother, Maria Paz Angeles Garcia, was a high school biology teacher. She is the second oldest of ten children.

Garcia’s high school education was interrupted by WWII. There is a note she wrote and included in her papers, when describing photographs from her childhood (RS 12/6/53, box 4, folder 2):

All earlier records were destroyed during WWII when our family home burned to the ground.

Pilar Garcia graduated from the University of the Philippines at Manila, in 1949, with a B.S. in pharmacy. During this time she earned the Barbour Scholarship, which sent her to the University of Michigan. This prestigious scholarship celebrated it’s 100th anniversary last year. One year later she earned the Master of Science degree in botany at the University of Michigan.

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Garcia then relocated to lowa State University, where she completed her studies in nutrition and worked as a graduate assistant. After she completed the M .S. and Ph.D., in 1952 and 1955 respectively, she immediately served as research associate in the Department of Food and Nutrition at ISU.

In 1957, Garcia became an assistant professor at ISU and in 1961 she was promoted to associate professor. It was not until 1974 that she was promoted to full professor. Throughout her academic career, Garcia spent her time researching and teaching courses about the effects of nutrition on people, primarily women. In 1978, she took a six-month faculty leave at the University of the Philippines at Los Banos College, Laguna, in order to conduct research on nutritional conditions of the rural, elderly poor. She earned a faculty citation from the lowa State Alumni Association in 1970 and won the Amoco Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award in 1986. Pilar Garcia retired in December 1991. In a letter written by Garcia she stated, in regards to her time at Iowa State, that (RS 12/6/53, box 1, folder 1 ):

Teaching undergraduate courses and interacting with students gave me the greatest joy and satisfaction

To read more about Pilar Garcia’s life and work at ISU, drop by the reading room! We’re open Monday-Friday, 9-5.


Women’s History Month: Evidence of Exclusion at ISU

Last month, a SCUA blog post on Black History Month and audiovisual recordings referenced the problem of “cultural memory gaps,” which is to say, gaps in the historical record that came about as the direct result of exclusionary attitudes and practices of the time. Sometimes, the loss or absence of a record is noticeable, as was the case with Ralph Ellison’s undocumented visit to Iowa State University. Sometimes, however, this loss or absence takes the form of lost potential, as is the case when members of underrepresented groups are systematically denied access to education, opportunity, and association that might have allowed them to better develop their talents in the first place.

Traditionally, Women’s History Month draws attention to the achievements and contributions of extraordinary individuals who proved exceptions to the rule of their time. It is equally important, however, to remember why so few achievements and contributions exist (at least, in documented form) to celebrate. Today, therefore, we are going to look at material which evidences some discriminatory practices and attitudes connected with ISU history.

The first example is a rejection letter from the Vet Med school, dated 1957.

The picture below features a photocopy of the original letter, with the name of the individual to whom it is addressed redacted for privacy purposes. The photocopy also contains markings from a patron who once included the letter in a class guide and wished to draw special attention to the justifications offered for the rejection.

March 11, 1957. Dear Miss: It is the policy of the Division of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State College not to admit women to the professional curriculum. Because of limited educational facilities it has been necessary to restrict the number of new students who may be admitted to approximately sixty-four. Each year we receive more applications from men students than can be accommodated. If women were admitted, they would displace the same number of men. In many cases women are not physically equal to the educational requirements of the large animal clinics. There are many good fields for women which are closely related to veterinary medical science, such as medical technician, radiologist, major study in bacteriology or zoology, and possibly human medicine. We are sorry to disappoint you. If you wish, we will be happy to consider your application for admission to some other curriculum offered by the Iowa State College. Sincerely yours.

Photocopy of 1957 letter of rejection (Iowa State University, Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, Subject Files, RS 3/6/1; Iowa State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Office of the Dean, Administrative Records, RS 14/1/8)

Notice how none of the justifications for rejection reference the applicant’s personal qualifications, but instead emphasize a desire to give male applicants priority consideration based exclusively on their gender.

The practice of discriminating against qualified applicants based on gender ended shortly thereafter, in 1960. Unfortunately, though, the attitudes which shaped the original policy seem to have persisted within the institution beyond the following decade, as there is later evidence of discriminatory practices that limited female students’ access to opportunities for professional development in more subtle ways, even after they had been admitted.

For example, we have a piece of correspondence from 1971, written in the name of the Osborn Research Club and signed by distinguished professors in animal husbandry and bacteriology, one of whom was dean of the graduate college at the time. The purpose of the letter was to establish unwritten policies in response to a challenge, though it is unclear whether this was common practice, as Osborn did not have a constitution at the time of founding.

The Osborn Research Club is a prestigious, now nearly-century-old, group on campus. It is not merely a student club or an honorary, but rather an academic, discussion-based, professional organization, intended to stimulate debate among active researchers in various branches of science. Unfortunately, certain matters were not up for debate.

2. No, women should not be admitted to membership; nor should they be guests at the meetings. (Unanimous). There are several good arguments for not accepting women as members (or even as guests). The presence of women, as members or guests, would make less free the discussions both at the table and after the paper; their presence might also restrict the freedom of selection of the content of the paper or the manner in which it was presented. The rules of politeness in our society are different when women are present than when the affair is stag. Almost all women view matters from a subjective viewpoint; many men can, and some do, view matters objectively. A woman presenting a paper is most likely to view serious and deep discussion as criticism; a man is not likely to react this way. In the presence of women men have to be careful not only what they say but how they say it. Sigma Xi, which is much more impersonal than Osborn Research Club, should serve better the needs of the woman scientist on our campus until such time as the campus women start some activity of their own.

Correspondence from Osborn Research Club, 1971 (Iowa State University, Osborn Research Club Records, RS 20/2/1, box 1, folder 11)

It is especially interesting to note that, despite the authors’ confidence in the absolute truth of their assertions, there was a pointed reluctance to open this question up for discussion among their reportedly objective-minded members. In fact, the authors of this letter – who, incidentally, signed themselves as “The Patriarchs” – burdened their membership with the responsibility of raising the issue in the first place, perhaps hoping it would simply not come up during their time in office.

3. We advise against the chairman going out of his way to present these questions of membership to the club for action. By tradition any member has always been free to bring any matter before the group for consideration at any meeting. It is probably wise that the chairman be informed in advance of such intention. 4. The chairman should decide the amount and nature of background material presented at the outset in a formal way. Discussion should be free and complete. (But we warn that there will be more wind than wisdom.)

Correspondence from Osborn Research Club, 1971 (Iowa State University, Osborn Research Club Records, RS 20/2/1, box 1, folder 11)

But, indeed, the patriarchs‘ hesitance to democratize the issue and create “wind” seems to have been well-founded, as the young men of the club voted to admit women in 1972, the year immediately following. Today, the Osborn Research Club counts numerous female researchers among its officers and members.

Nor is this the only moment in ISU history when students have stood up to their elders in the name of a social justice cause.

In the summer of 1943, the ISU chapter of Mortar Board, then an honor society for senior women (now a co-ed honorary for upper-classmen), initiated a letter-writing campaign to debate a national board ruling, which had excluded a highly-qualified black student from joining the Ohio State University chapter, even though the girl’s classmates had already unanimously voted her in.

The letter, after quoting the Mortar Board constitution, summarizes the incident below:

As you will note after reading carefully our purpose and membership qualifications we have no statement in that which bars a girl because of race, color or creed. However, in the past your Council has made it a policy to admit only members of the white race except where special permission has been requested and granted. This spring one of our chapters unanimously elected a girl of the negro race. This girl has all the necessary qualifications for membership: high scholarship, service to the school, and holds many importatn [sic] offices including that of president ofthe [sic] Y.W.C.A. and A.W.S. board member. The chapter advisors, knowing of our former policy, referred the matter to Council. Since the six members of the Council are so widely separated it was difficult in so short a time to discuss adeqately [sic] the situation and to decide wisely and fairly. also, we did not wish to pass judgment hastily on a matter of national policy of some years standing. Therefore, we reqested [sic] the chapetr [sic] to elect the other new members this spring and if, after our Council meeting, we decided to sanction the election of a negro, this action would be retroactive and the chapter in the fall would initiate the girl in question and she would still have her full year of active membership.

Correspondence from Iowa State University chapter of Mortar Board (Mortar Board. Torch Chapter (Iowa State University), RS 22/2/3, box 1, folder 10)

The language of the ISU chapter letter remains carefully diplomatic throughout, framing the issue as one of local democracy, in which each chapter should be allowed to decide on their own admissions policies. It does, however, repeatedly call for response from its sister chapters (implying that the complaint, although addressed to the national president, was not posted privately). It is also filed together with just such a response from the Mortar Board chapter at the University of Washington, and the latter minces fewer words:

It has seemed to us that there is very little room for debate on the matter. Mortar Board is a national organization to recognize and honor coed achievement and leadership. It is not an organization to honor white achievement and leadership. mortar Board loses its entire meaning if it refuses to recognize ability outside of a certain selected group. If a Negro girl -- or a girl of any other race -- has met the standards set forth by Mortar Board for membership, then there is no conceivable reason why she should not be admitted. If National refuses to verify her initiation, then national would be guilty of one of the basic principles against which we are fighting -- racial intolerance. And we as sub-chapters of the organization would share that guilt.

Correspondence from University of Washington chapter of Mortar Board, 1943 (Mortar Board. Torch Chapter (Iowa State University), RS 22/2/3, box 1, folder 10)

Sadly, we have little evidence on the outcome of this specific incident. The folder contains only a reply from the national president, along with a note on onion skin paper from an unidentified alumnae association. Both the president and the alumnae repeatedly, almost redundantly, classify the matter of whether or not to admit black students as a “problem,” find the University of Washington chapter’s tone “belligerent,” and generally agree with the ISU chapter that such policies, such “problems,” are best decided upon at the local level. There is no indication of whether or not Ohio State permitted the girl to join Mortar Board, let alone whether she had any remaining desire to do so.

With this lack of resolution in mind, here are a few take-away points:

1). Despite what the first two documents examined in this blog post imply, the attitudes and prejudices which shape exclusionary practices, at ISU and elsewhere, are not, and have never been, the sole property of men. Women of color have faced systematic exclusion much longer than, and frequently at the hands of, white women.

2). Historically speaking, it is not at all a new phenomenon for young people to champion policy-based change, only to hear their elders patronize and dismiss them for their zeal. In fact, many individuals who make sweeping generalizations about Generations X, Y, and Z today would themselves have belonged to the generations that protested exclusion with such recognizable turns of pandering, “wind,” and “belligerence.” 

3). The missing pieces from all of these stories are the thoughts, reactions, and even identities of the women whom these exclusionary policies impacted. All of these individuals must have had some perspective on what had happened to them and why. All of these individuals had lives before and after they butted up against the policies. But their stories are filtered exclusively through the words of their oppressors and/or, occasionally, the people who chose to stand up for them. This is unfortunate, because it frames our entire knowledge of these women as victims who required saving, and there is no evidence that this is how they saw themselves. For all we know, they may have been glad to discover upfront how prejudiced these organizations were, or what a potentially toxic environment they had escaped. A number of them may have gone on to be very successful in the context of other institutions, other organizations, or in other fields. Without hearing the story from multiple sides, we have no way of knowing what precisely was lost.

The real loss in all of these cases, then, is the institution’s loss, the archives’ loss, the historical record’s loss. Not only was ISU denied many opportunities to boast a role in shaping young talent, but current and future historians have been denied the opportunity to gauge with any accuracy precisely how much damage these exclusionary policies caused, or to whom. All we know for certain is that they existed, they were implemented, and why.